Preventing occupational exposures to antineoplastic drugs in health care settings

CA Cancer J Clin. 2006 Nov-Dec;56(6):354-65. doi: 10.3322/canjclin.56.6.354.


The toxicity of antineoplastic drugs has been well known since they were introduced in the 1940s. Because most antineoplastic drugs are nonselective in their mechanism of action, they affect noncancerous as well as cancerous cells, resulting in well-documented side effects. During the 1970s, evidence came to light indicating health care workers may be at risk of harmful effects from antineoplastic drugs as a result of occupational exposure. Since that time, reports from several countries have documented drug contamination of the workplace, identified drugs in the urine of health care workers, and measured genotoxic responses in workers. Evidence also exists of teratogenic and adverse reproductive outcomes and increased cancers in health care workers. During the past 30 years, professional organizations and government agencies have developed guidelines to protect health care workers from adverse effects from occupational exposure to antineoplastic drugs. Although many safety provisions were advanced to reduce worker exposure in the 1980s, recent studies have shown that workers continue to be exposed to these drugs despite safety policy improvements. In 2004, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published an alert reviewing the most recent information available and promoting a program of safe handling during their use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / standards
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Carcinogens / standards
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Safety Management / standards
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical / standards
  • United States
  • Waste Management / standards


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Carcinogens